Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli is a life-long United Methodist who is passionate about sharing the
good news of God’s liberating love in Jesus Christ.
In 2014, she became the first woman to serve as Senior Pastor of historic Foundry UMC in Washington, DC. Since Ginger’s appointment, Foundry has re-energized its work for racial justice, become a founding member of the Sanctuary DMV movement, and created a Sacred Resistance Ministry Team to mobilize consistent action in response to troubling current events.
A graduate of Yale Divinity School, Ginger has served a variety of congregations: small and large, urban and suburban in the Baltimore Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church, in addition to an uptown Manhattan and two-point charge in the New York Annual Conference. Ginger has served the Baltimore Washington Conference as Chair of the Board of Discipleship and currently serves on the Board of Ordained Ministry. In addition, she has served as an elected delegate to the 2016 General Conference and the 2019 Special General Conference of the United Methodist Church.
For over 20 years as a pastor-theologian, her ministry has encouraged spiritual growth and
engaged discipleship—emphasizing radical hospitality, shared ministry, spiritual practices, and
solidarity with the poor and oppressed. With this focus, she has brought depth, health, and
growth to every community she has served. Ginger contributed to and served as a general editor
for The CEB Women’s Bible (Abingdon, October 2016). Her book, Sacred Resistance: A Practical
Guide to Christian Witness and Dissent, was released in May 2018. Ginger is a sought-after
preacher, teacher, and facilitator at local, regional, and international events.
She enjoys gardening, yoga, poetry, art, ice cream, travel, hiking, and is married to Dr. Anthony T. Gaines Cirelli, a Catholic theologian, currently serving the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as a Director in their Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs office. The Gaines-Cirellis live in Washington, DC with their Persian cat Annie Rose & Clumber Spaniels Harvey and Daisy.
Connect with Pastor Ginger
How should persons of faith respond when government officials and political leaders behave in ways that contradict values long espoused by Christian tradition? How should churches respond? Sacred Resistance: A Practical Guide to Christian Witness and Dissent provides thoughtful guidance for those pondering their answers to those questions.
A sermon preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC, May 16, 2021, Ascension Sunday. “Give Me a Word” series.
Text: Acts 1:1-11
It’s a time of transition. Things have been painful—lots of injustice, death, grief, confusion, and fear. And then hope appears—concrete reason for hope appears!
That’s our story! It’s our story right now as we turn the corner from this past 14 months of multiple pandemics and begin to receive information allowing us to begin mobilizing activities that have been off-limits for so long. It’s also the story we receive today in scripture.
The followers of Jesus have been through it! They experienced so many highs and lows on the journey with Jesus. They watched as he was humiliated and killed. They thought he was going to be the one to sit on the throne of David in Jerusalem, to fulfill a promise to restore Israel’s political power—to free the people from colonial, imperial subjugation. And those hopes seemed to die along with Jesus who’d inspired, taught, encouraged, empowered and mobilized a whole movement. But then, hope reappears! Jesus is back, resurrected, and, as it says in Acts 1:3, presents himself alive and speaks about the kindom of God for 40 days.
Notice that even after all this has transpired, the people were still singularly focused on what they’d always been focused on: “Is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” Another way to say it—are you going to finally give us back what we lost, the old way of being? They were looking back and looking only at their own tribe, their own people. They seem to have missed Jesus’ consistent focus not on the restored kingdom of Israel but rather the vision and practice of the Kindom of God. Jesus doesn’t give them much of an answer to their specific question, but instead gives them this word: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) Short hand for this: You your call is to be a witness to EVERYBODY, whether or not you like them, trust them, or even know them.
Now, if I’d been in that group, I would have had lots of questions. // And I would have been out of luck. Because just then, a fog, a cloud rolls in (the presence of God often shows up in clouds) and Jesus is lifted out of their sight. He’s gone. Again. And there are no clear answers. Just Jesus’s direction to wait on Holy Spirit. Just wait for the promise: Spirit…power…
The disciples’ hope gets interrupted by the unforeseen complication of Jesus’ leaving and the aggravating reality that things are NOT going be as they were in the past, that the future is yet uncertain, and that they—Jesus’ followers—are gonna have to figure out what to do on the other side of waiting.
No wonder they didn’t know where to focus. No wonder they needed to be reminded by the mystery men in white to come back down to earth. Because all that stuff is difficult to deal with. And, wow, does it feel resonant with where we are as a congregation and people of faith in this moment.
First of all, we’re tired. We’ve been through a lot—some of us more than others, but all of us have been through it. Our emotional, physical, and spiritual reservoirs are low. Patience is likely thin. Many of us are languishing. I confess I am in that boat—just not fully “on my game!” Some of us are depressed or experiencing high anxiety. Many are grieving losses of family and friends due to COVID or other causes—most of whom we’ve been unable to memorialize and celebrate in traditional ways. We’re faced with a politicized public health crisis that has complicated our ability to trust official communications. And I could go on and on with the varieties of experiences that contribute to the challenging state of our collective mental and emotional health in this present moment.
And now: HOPE! We are hearing that masks can come off if we’re vaccinated and religious communities can gather without restrictions on numbers and on it goes.
It is absolutely understandable that many of us are singularly focused on getting back to church, getting back to the old, familiar ways of gathering, and worshipping. What’s to stop us?
I realized this past week that the shift in message and guidance feels a bit like whiplash—from high alert and multiple safety protocols, to no holds barred. I will admit that, as a leader, it is pretty disorienting. I’ve been trying to stay grounded in the values that have guided us so well through the pandemic—prioritizing health and safety, following the science, and discerning what it means in each phase of the pandemic to love God and neighbor.
To that last point, here are several things for us to keep in mind. We know that there are some who’ve been vaccinated for months while others have yet to be able to get vaccinated. And, as will be true in any human community, there are a variety of levels of risk tolerance or aversion among us. Some folk are finding it very anxiety producing to re-engage after the relative quiet and stillness of the past year, others were ready to fling themselves into the crowded human spaces months ago. All this to say, it’s important to remember that how we are feeling or needing is not necessarily how others are feeling or needing.
Another thing to consider is that some things will be different as we return to in-person worship. And much of what, exactly, will be different is still up in the air because plans are not yet finalized around all the details. Believe it or not, there are so many details to consider, discern, and plan for—because we do try to figure out how to love our neighbor in this context, to sort out how to do justice and practice radical hospitality…
And, since we have valued keeping everyone protected, our staff, committee chairs, outside contractors, and the like have not been in the building except in highly limited ways and only to assure that our beloved spaces were OK over the better part of the year. So at this point, there are some repairs and systems that need care prior to our full return—both for safety and to support a robust hybrid—that is, in-person and digital, Foundry community.
It may be difficult for some of us to imagine—because it’s not readily perceived— just how critically important and significant the call is to set some new priorities that celebrate and connect with our growing digital community whose presence blesses our worship and ministry from places all over the country and world. //
Just as with the original disciples in our text, what for some may be a “hope high” gets interrupted by Jesus’ uttering the word, “wait”—and his unwillingness to look back to an old, limited vision but instead saying, “witness” beyond your well-known community. And we, like the first disciples, are confronted with the aggravating reality that things are NOT going be exactly as they were in the past, that the future is yet uncertain, and that, on the other side of waiting, we are gonna have to figure out what to do and how and when to do it.
And all of this from a place of depletion.
Except Jesus is never one to leave us without help. The promise is that Spirit will give us power to do what we are called to do! And this is our WORD for today: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you!”
Spirit will give us power to be patient with one another.
Spirit will give us power to think beyond our own comfort or needs as we try to love our neighbor.
Spirit will give us power to confess and to forgive one another when the stress, exhaustion, and struggle leads us to miss the mark.
Spirit will give us power to be creative and careful and efficient in our re-entry plans.
Spirit will give us power to be open-minded about changes in our shared life that are required for the next season.
Spirit will give us power to pitch in to help with emerging needs as we re-engage in person.
Spirit will give us power to support one another in our various places of pain and struggle.
Spirit will give us power to be gentle with ourselves when we mess up or feel negative or afraid or unmotivated.
Spirit will give us power to witness in old and in new ways to the power of resurrection life, the power of God’s saving, new life-giving love, the power of Jesus’ embrace that draws the circle ever wider.
A wider circle, as we know full well at Foundry, doesn’t mean that we lose our place, it simply means that we get to share life with even more members of the Beloved clan. Spirit gives us power to do that! Thanks be to Jesus for the promise. Thanks be to God for this Foundry community in which—through every change and challenge—we get to do the hard, holy work of loving God, loving each other, and changing the world.
Interfaith Conversation of Forgiveness moderated by David Gregory
Faith Leaders Hold DC Vigil to Call For Change
This Week on Day 1
"I don’t recognize my church." That’s what I said to myself while serving as a delegate of the 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon.
In her new book, “Sacred Resistance,” the senior pastor of Foundry UMC in Washington, D.C., articulates how Christians can engage in the work of mending the world.
The language of “resistance” has a long history. For many it will call to mind those who’ve marched, stood on picket lines, participated in sit-ins, and put their bodies between trucks, tanks, and other people or cherished land. Used as a political term, resistance is generally understood as a kind of collective civil disobedience, focused on justice and human rights, and embodied in public actions like those just mentioned.
When so many causes, crises, and critical needs demand our attention, how can a congregation decide where to engage? Pastor and author Ginger Gaines-Cirelli outlines key questions and concerns in discerning a faithful and sustainable response to public issues.
While it is still dark, Easter happens. Because if the message is that Easter only happens in the light, when we feel strong and certain, when suffering and death hasn’t touched our lives, when the powers of empire have been defeated and justice is consistently done — if that’s the only context where Easter happens, then our celebration of Easter would be a farce.
“It’s poor religion that can’t provide a sufficient curse when needed.” Wendell Berry said that.
Ginger Gaines-Cirelli, author of Sacred Resistance, says it’s up to preachers to address the pain, injustice, confusion, and chaos in our days even when it is risky, and she offers guidance on approaching controversial issues in meaningful and responsible ways.
Nearly ten years ago at a dinner in New York City, I was stunned when someone at my table declared clearly that there is really no point in dialogue or relationship with those whose beliefs will not be conformed to your own.
Beth Bingham began to see Hagar of the Old Testament in a new way after studying The
Suddenly she wasn’t just the servant who bore Abraham a child when his wife Sarah couldn’t. She was, essentially, the Bible’s first single mom — one who had to leave the house because tensions were so high.
Bingham, a student at Virginia Theological Seminary, couldn’t wait to bring The CEB (Common English Bible) Women’s Bible and share her Hagar insight with the female inmates she studies Scripture with twice a month.
"I’m not sure how I feel about living in this city,” said a theologically trained young adult with a passion for social justice. As a relative newcomer to Washington, DC, he shared, “It seems that Washington attracts folks who care a lot about power and what it takes to get it.”
“Why should I add another Bible to my shelf?” This good-natured question has emerged often these past months as folks have learned that I served as an editor for the new CEB Women’s Bible.
It’s clear almost instantly that Abingdon Press’s newest Bible isn’t the kind of Christian women’s fare that focuses heavily on Proverbs 31 and lightly on indignities around gender.
The CEB Women’s Bible is a specialty edition of the Common English Bible, sold and distributed by Abingdon Press, part of United Methodist Publishing House. As a contributing editor, Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli shares, “I think the vast, inclusive number of women’s voices that we have represented in the writings is beautiful and wonderful.” All five editors are women, as are all 80 of the commentary contributors. The team includes mainly seminary professors and pastors, but also Christian novelists and a rabbi.
Growing up in a small town, Ginger Gaines-Cirelli ’96 M.Div. saw the wounds caused by poverty and segregation. Growing up United Methodist, she saw the urgency of connecting personal piety and social action.